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Solving Trailer Loading Problems:

The Miracle of Making the Trailer a Good Place to be

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Loading Sparky

by
Joe Andrews

    Diana was thrilled with the ride she just had on Sparky. He had made a nice change in the time he spent with me. As we relaxed in the warm afternoon sun for a few minutes, she told me about some of the experiences she’d had trying to load Sparky in her trailer. After having him pull away from her, and run off into the woods, she came up with a system that seemed to work for her, but she really wanted it improved. Diana would lead Sparky to the back of her trailer and clip him to a leadrope she had tied there. Sparky would pull back and fight with the leadrope for a while before settling down. When Sparky quit fighting, Diana would switch leadropes, clipping him to a leadrope she had tied inside the trailer. Sparky would pull and fight again, for a little while, before walking into the trailer. As Diana described this technique to me, she said her take on it was that Sparky just needed to know there was no way out of it, before he decided to get in the trailer. I told Diana I would teach Sparky to load better, and assured her that he would be fine when she took him home the next week.

    I started by loading Sparky into my big stock trailer; it is less confining than Diana’s small two-horse trailer. With the trailer positioned to give me a large clear working area, I led Sparky up to the door. He turned and walked away rather briskly. I didn’t get the feeling that he was trying to escape, more like he thought that was what he was supposed to do. I set myself when I had the angle on Sparky, and he hit the end of the leadrope. Sparky turned and faced me. He seemed a little surprised but not scared. I took him back to the trailer, petted him as he stood there, and took him away before he felt he needed to leave on his own. I then began a pattern of approach and retreat. Sending Sparky away from me, I did as little directing as possible -- just enough to keep him headed toward the trailer. When he got as far as he could go each time, I took Sparky away and start again. By petting and praising Sparky when he was interested in the trailer, I was making the trailer a good place. Soon Sparky was making an effort to get in -- first his head, then his head and neck, then a front foot, then both front feet, then a back foot, until he was walking all the way in. After Sparky walked calmly into the trailer several times, I put him up.

    Several days after loading Sparky into my stock trailer, I had a free afternoon so I took the time to work with loading Sparky into Diana’s trailer. I parked the trailer near the round pen, where I would have plenty of room to work. When I led Sparky toward the trailer, he stopped about 15 feet away, frozen, with his front feet spread apart, leaning back on his haunches, his attention riveted on the trailer. I petted Sparky, speaking to him in soothing tones, assuring him that everything was all right. It took a minute or two, but soon Sparky relaxed. I made sure he was with me by asking him to lower his head and by placing his feet back and forth, then we proceeded to the trailer. Sparky never made an effort to leave. By using the same approach-and-retreat pattern I used with the stock trailer, Sparky was soon walking into Diana’s trailer calmly. When Sparky had gone in and out of the trailer several times, and was staying in it until I asked him to come out, I decided to take it up a notch and see if he could learn to go in completely on his own.

    Replacing Sparky’s halter with a 60-foot lariat, I picked a spot about 25 feet away from the trailer. I wanted Sparky to learn that there were two places to be, with me at that spot, or in the trailer. When I sent Sparky away, I let the rope feed out of my hand and only directed him when he lost interest in the trailer. We began a series of "be with me at our spot, now go get in the trailer." At first I had to walk along with him, back near his hip. As things progressed, I could be further and further away until I could stay at our spot and Sparky would walk into the trailer with very little directing. The last time I sent Sparky away, he started to go toward the horse that was in the round pen instead of the trailer. Before I managed to pick up the slack in my rope to direct Sparky back, he turned in the direction of the trailer. I was taking up rope as Sparky’s path created slack now, and didn’t notice soon enough that he wasn’t headed for the trailer, he was headed for the grassy ditch bank under the cottonwood tree. Just before I moved to drive Sparky away from the ditch, he stopped, looked at the trailer, turned, walked over and got in. I called that good enough.

    When Diana was ready to take Sparky home, she asked me to show her my procedure for loading. I led Sparky over to Diana’s trailer, opened the back door, put the leadrope over Sparky’s back, asked him to get in, and stepped back out of his way. Sparky walked right in and stood there while I hooked the butt chain and closed the door.

    Diana was speechless!

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Last modified: 25 OCT 2010